Every year there are films I want to see but, for one reason or another, just don't, and this year is no exception. Maybe they were near me and I just couldn't find the time (Melancholia, Take Shelter), maybe I just haven't gotten around to it yet (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, War Horse) maybe they're not getting wide release until next year (The Flowers of War, Miss Bala, A Separation, Albert Nobbs). Maybe they're on DVD and I haven't managed to track them down yet (The Help, The Devil's Double). So while I'm sure this is not the end of my watching of the best movies of 2011 (hell, I'm scheduled to see A Dangerous Method tomorrow), with a week left in the year, it seems like the time is right to release my best 10 films of the year. If you haven't seen any of them yet, all of these films come highly recommended, so give them a look. (Also I'm trying a new style for this one, if you have any thoughts on it, let me know)
#10: The Troll Hunter
Europe has thus far put out some of the best genre films of the past 10 years, and since Europe's preferences tend to run more towards intellect and story telling, their increased participation in the film industry can only mean good things. But don't take that to mean that they don't like things to be fun, as The Troll Hunter is not only one of the smartest monster movies made in the last decade but also one of the most visually impressive. The CGI used to create the trolls and the action sequences that include them are hands down some of the most astonishing things I've seen all year.
#9: Young Adult
Jason Reitman continues to show himself to be the sober and intellectual yin to his father's more crowd pleasing yang and Diablo Cody proves that Juno wasn't a fluke. Together with a great cast they craft a unique and engaging story of a person so intently unlikeable that it feels strange to realize you pity her. The script is funny, the characters unique and well rounded and if you look carefully you might see the strands of a spoof of romantic comedies peeking in around the edges If you know that prom queen bitch and hated her in high school, show up just to see what she might look like when she's pushing 40.
With Green Lantern being nearly unbelievably bad and the latest Avengers lead ins being little more than empty spectacle, it was up to the X-Men again to show everyone how it's done. With an incredible cast and great characters, it felt like real people were inhabiting it's incredibly directed action scenes, rather than empty ciphers. Most of all, it's adult story and great writing made me feel that superhero films can still be legitimately intelligent movies, rather than empty action films. Thank you First Class, for erasing all the hurt from X3 and Wolverine.
It's difficult to put into words just what I liked about Tabloid. The uniqueness of the story it was covering and the way it managed to give us real insight into the events without trying to ever choose a side in it might have a lot to do with it. The incredible presentation also helped and the great direction and editing certainly didn't hurt. Tune in because you want to find out more about the case, or because you find Tabloid newspapers interesting or just because you want to learn more about Mormons, it doesn't matter. Just show up.
An oft-forgotten fact about Brad Pitt is that he is star who, along with Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, can actually really act. Even in movies that don't require a lot of effort from their actors, like Ocean's 11, he still manages to give great performances. Which makes his performances when he's actually trying all the more impressive. And hey, Jonah Hill manages to be effective enough that I'm almost willing to forgive him for the rest of his career. But all the actors in the world are for naught if the story isn't good and in this case it's a deeply intelligent and surprisingly moving story, told from a unique angle. Highly recommended.
#5: Source Code
Given that Source Code was my best movie of the year for so long, it seems weird for it to have fallen so far. But let's not hold that against it, it's still a tightly made, engaging thriller. So what the ending took just a tiny bit too long? The characters are well rounded, the acting solid to great across the board, the story is intriguing, the science fiction aspect really works and it really focuses on the human aspect, more than a lot of films like it. And hey, Duncan Jones is actually getting a career. I'm really glad he didn't have to stop at Moon.
#4: J. Edgar
This was one polarizing film, some people giving it great reviews, others giving it terrible reviews. But I've never been one to let other people's opinions affect mine and for my money it was great. The script was excellent, as was the direction (even if the continuity was a little wonky) and the acting was amazing. Even the negative reviews agreed, Leonardo DiCaprio's performance was one of the best of the year, and a career highpoint for him. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's still an incredibly good movie.
The fact that someone went and made a silent film in 2011 is enough to make most people sit up and take notice. The fact that it's one of the best and most engaging films of the year should be enough to get most people to go see it. With an interestingly metatextual story, fantastic direction and amazing performances from the entire cast, we might be looking at the first silent film to win Best Picture since 1927, and if that isn't enough to get you to see it, the story is engaging, funny and even moving, so just go see it.
#2: The Descendants
George Clooney gives one of the best performances of his career in a subtly brilliant film. Everything, from the gorgeous cinematography, to the amazing performances, to the ingenious screenplay to the eclectic music choice combine to make this one of best and most affecting movies of the year. Maybe if this can win a bunch of awards, we can finally have Alexander Payne make more than 2 movies a decade. And it would almost certainly be the movie of his career, if his career hadn't been on an upward slide. Keep 'em coming Mr. Payne, and keep seeing this people so he'll get a chance to make more
No film completely blew me away the way Black Swan did last year or District 9 did the year before, but let's not hold other years against this one and just talk about how good this film is. And what a good film it is too. Taking a serious look at a well worn genre and coming out with an intelligent and beautifully directed piece of cinema. With gorgeous cinematography, unique music choices, bone crunching action, a quietly brilliant script and amazing acting all around, Drive is a career high point for Nicholas Winding Refn and a worthy best film of the year.